Silent Teachers: Honouring those who donate their bodies to medical science
Donating her body to medical science wasn’t something Dorothy Delany talked about when she was alive. But it was her one final gesture of kindness, recalls her daughter Cathy Delany.
Twenty-seven years later, Cathy’s father, Bill Delany, made the same decision.
“So many of the things my mom and dad did were everyday displays of love toward their family,” says Delany. “And then, in their own way, they found something they could do for others that was so very selfless.”
Dorothy and Bill Delany aren’t alone in their altruism. Every year, the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine receives between 50 and 80 body donations. The first donation was received in 1946 and uOttawa medical students have been learning from human bodies ever since.
Body donors help in the development of anatomy and surgical skills, and for this reason they are often referred to as “silent teachers,” or an MD’s “first patient.” First- and second-year medical students spend the most time in the anatomy lab.
“Just as we’re all a little bit different on the outside, we’re all different on the inside,” says Melanie, a second-year MD student. “You can’t learn that from books or different 3D apps you can find now online. It’s not the same thing.”
Their work on the human bodies allows students to learn how the different systems, like the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, function and are interconnected. Surgeons and residents also benefit from working with an actual human form when practicing procedures such as hip and knee replacement during surgical skills workshops.
Before the students begin their work in the anatomy lab, uOttawa’s head of Anatomy, Dr. Alireza Jalali, explains a strict code of conduct that must be adhered to at all times. That code hangs in large print in the lab, and is visible from just about anywhere one stands in the room. Among others things, it is a reminder to treat the bodies “as you would wish your own body or that of a member of your family to be treated.”
“Some items in our code of conduct may seem obvious, but it leaves no room for error, misunderstandings or disrespect,” says Dr. Jalali. “These individuals have selflessly chosen to help advance our work and to teach our future doctors. We owe them nothing less than the greatest level dignity possible.”
Delany acknowledges that it’s this code of conduct that give her peace of mind about the decision that both of her parents made.
Every year these donors, such as Dorothy and Bill Delany, are commemorated at a special memorial service organized by Faculty of Medicine staff and students. This year’s service will take place on Tuesday, June 5 at the Pinecrest Remembrance Services cemetery on Baseline Road in Ottawa, Ontario.